Written by: Andrea Memon, RDN, CD, LD
Photo Credit: Dana Fort
Halloween is just around the corner! Are you ready? I really am not. I have not figured out a single costume, but one saying I find myself saying often is, “ready or not, here it comes!” Halloween is a kind of a dietitian’s nightmare, and holidays in general are tricky to navigate for everyone, for more reasons than only from the lense of nutrition. This is why I’m sharing balanced nutrition strategies to help you be ready for Halloween in one important way!
I’ve learned a few lessons the hard way as a parent: A few years ago, a particular Halloween still stands out, for all of it’s fun, craziness and chaos.... My youngest son, who was around three years old, was frantic as trick-or-treating commenced. He desperately wanted to keep up with his older brothers’ pace, so he sprinted to try and collect as much candy, as fast as possible.
That night and the next morning, my kids' candy intake was impressive, to say the least. The morning after, I found my 3 year old awake at the crack of dawn. He was in the kitchen, eating candy, and burying himself in his wrapped Halloween candies, as if it were sand and he was at the beach. Needless to say this child loves, and I mean LOVES candy!
Photo Credit: Andrea Memon
A few days after this particular Halloween, a friend asked, “How was your Halloween?” My reply was, “I didn’t lose any kids and they didn’t eat their whole bucket of candy in one day, so that was a Halloween win for me.”
Since this memorable Halloween, I’ve refined my strategies to better manage this holiday. Today, I’ll share 7 tips:
1. Sit down with your children for a family discussion to set clear expectations. It is critical to establish ground rules and agree upon guidelines prior to Halloween, so everyone knows what to expect. An example of this is, you and your child agree that on Halloween, each child can pick X number of small candies (X is however many you are comfortable with) from what they collect trick-or-treating to eat on Halloween. For the rest of the candy, explain that after Halloween, your child can pick 2 small candies each day to eat.
Talk to your child or children about nutrition at family meals! It’s a good time to teach about healthy eating habits. Kids want to learn! A comprehensive, free and kid friendly resource I have used to teach my kids is available at: Kids Eat in Color: Home
Specifically address sugar with your children. When discussing sugar, share the following with your child or children, depending on their age(s):
Sugar gives you energy. Sugar is naturally found in some foods such as fruit and milk products.
Foods with sugar give you quick energy, but it can run out fast.
Eating protein, healthy fats and fiber foods and foods that naturally contain sugar together at a snack or a meal, can help your body stay full longer.
At snack time, ask your child, “what protein food would you like to eat with your fruit?”
Sugar is often added to foods when processed, cooked or baked. This type of sugar is called added sugar. Added sugar is found in all kinds of foods that we might not expect. Added sugar can be found in ketchup, spaghetti sauce, french fries, really it can be found in almost anything, and intake from these kinds of foods can add up fast!
We need to pay attention to how much added sugar we eat because eating a lot of it when you are a kid can cause you to become sick as an adult. Eating too much sugar now can make your body and heart sick when you get older. Eating too much sugar today affects how you feel now.
If your child is older, you can be more specific. For children ages 12 and olders, you can say, “we need to pay attention to how much added sugar we eat because eating too much added sugar when you are a kid is linked to becoming an adult who develops obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. These diseases take time to develop, so what we eat now impacts your health as an adult. What we eat today impacts how you feel today. This is why the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar intake to less than 6 teaspoons per day or 25 grams of added sugar. Let’s read nutrition labels together, so we know how much we are eating.”
The following is a summary of the guidelines for Added Sugar Intake from the American Heart Association(1):
Avoid serving foods and beverages with added sugar to kids under 2 years old.
Kids ages 2 to 18 should consume less than 25 grams of sugar (or 6 teaspoons) per day, including no more than 8 ounces of sugar-sweetened drinks per week. Think about that!
There are many names for sugar on nutrition labels. Here is a resource to learn more: Types of Sugar: 56 Common Ones You Should Know. To estimate added sugar intake, it is helpful to know that every 4 grams of added sugar listed on the food label is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar.
The day of Halloween
2. Serve your child or children a hearty and healthy, well-balanced meal before leaving to trick-or-treat. Do this even if it means serving a full meal outside of your family's standard meal time. Filling up with fiber, protein and fat before eating candy will keep your child's blood sugar more stable.
3. Be flexible! If you and your child or children are not able to stick to these guidelines, don’t stress about it! Start over the next day. Overall nutrition status is a reflection of long-term nutritional habits. Try to keep building on small improvements, which add up over time.
4. Stick to your families pre-Halloween agreement of having your child select 2 candies each day to eat and offer them after meals. Little stomachs fill up quickly, so after a meal is a great time to offer a small portion of candy. Again, eating a meal with fiber, fat and protein, and then candy for dessert is the best way to minimize blood sugar spikes.
5. Create a barrier to accessing the candy (store it on a high shelf), rather than leaving it on the kitchen counter or in their room. This small barrier can make it a lot easier to stick to.
6. What to do when your child is having a tantrum for more candy? In this situation, your child might actually be hungry. Try to offer a balanced snack instead.
7. Having candy in the house is challenging! So what's my philosophy towards candy? As parents we are the gatekeeper of what we bring into our house and serve to our family. However, we do have candy in our home regularly. As a dietitian, I recommend we teach our child how to navigate access to delicious, highly palatable, highly processed, sugar filled foods, as this is a necessary life skill. This life skill is one they need to practice and be taught to make educated choices.
I hope these strategies and tips send you and your family on your way towards a very safe, happy and healthy Halloween!
About the author: Andrea Memon is a registered dietitian, a wife, a mother of three boys, and a lover of food, cooking, fitness, wellness and nature! She grew up in Idaho - not that many people can say that, and currently lives in a Chicago suburb. You can follow her blog at www.nutritionchopped.com, and on instagram: @nutritionchopped.
Article Reviewed / Edited by: Megan Mikhail